In her most explicit admission of her department’s role in last week’s online testing fiasco, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has apologized to state lawmakers and accepted responsibility for the failed transition to online testing this school year.
She also says last week’s “difficult decision” to scrap the switch to online testing on the first day of its rollout was made with students in mind because “they deserve a reliable, consistent experience every time they log in.”
“The state department of education takes full responsibility for the inability to test online this year,” McQueen wrote in her letter emailed to lawmakers on Friday, five days after a network outage led the commissioner to pull the plug on the program.
McQueen’s apologies appear to back off of her earlier comments placing the full blame on Measurement Inc., the developer of Tennessee’s new TNReady assessment and its online platform. One day after scrubbing online testing for the year, McQueen said she had lost confidence in the North Carolina company and that the state was reviewing its $108 million contract with the firm.
The testing failure is scheduled to be reviewed Wednesday in Nashville by two state Senate committees to determine what went wrong. Representatives of both the department and Measurement Inc. have been called to testify.
“We are prepared to answer any questions the General Assembly or the public may have regarding this failure of execution,” McQueen wrote lawmakers. “We are learning from this experience.”
Other than the 20,000 students who were able to complete the online test before the shutdown, McQueen directed school districts to revert to pencil-and-paper assessments of the new TNReady. Across Tennessee, students who had been scheduled to begin online testing this month now must wait for the paper-based tests to arrive. Teachers are rearranging lesson plans and schedules to accommodate the sudden shift.
“I want to stress to you that the paper version of TNReady is still TNReady,” McQueen wrote of the new test aligned to the state’s current Common Core academic standards.
She said the paper tests are being shipped to each district at no additional taxpayer cost.
McQueen emphasized that the state is not completely retreating from using online testing platforms. “In the long term, we remain committed to using technology for online testing,” she wrote. “This transition has been challenging, but we still believe that by working together, we can strengthen what is happening in each of our classrooms.”
You can read McQueen’s full letter to lawmakers here: